Sunday 22 April 2018

Bach hits sour note as opening speech ignores scourge of drugs in sport

IOC president Thomas Bach speaks during Friday night's opening ceremony. Photo: Franck Fifefranck
IOC president Thomas Bach speaks during Friday night's opening ceremony. Photo: Franck Fifefranck

Ian Herbert

The Brazilians displayed those characteristics which make them such a wonderful people in the Olympic Games opening ceremony: humour, modesty, self-deprecation and an appreciation for very good music.

The clever people from the West came to sneer at their low-budget stage management but left the Maracana grudgingly impressed. It was all such a crashing contrast with everything delivered on Friday night by the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, who was a pitifully depressing figure to behold.

The IOC's actions have seen to it that these games will be attended by more than 270 members of a team put together by a Russian nation which we now know has supervised and sponsored a sophisticated doping regime. The International Paralympic Committee has shown the way, banning Russians outright from their games. And yet there was Bach, standing on the podium, moralising to us about how to conduct ourselves.

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"We are living in a world where selfishness is gaining ground; where certain people claim to be superior to others," Bach declared, perpetuating this amorphous myth that because the Olympics and their rings sit on some superior spiritual plane.

Bach and his people ladled out more and more of this Olympic movement stodge with a ladle, including the obligatory choreography of smiling children in their midst, when what the ceremony screamed out for was something to shock and embarrass Vladimir Putin and his cheating stooges.

In the months and years after Rio, we will return to the interminable talk of how to fund and fight the scourge of doping, when here - in the arena, in the moment, with millions looking on - was the chance for Bach and the IOC to make a statement. Imagine the stunning effect of this German lawyer standing up to say: 'Russia, you have shamed yourselves and sport. You are iniquitous. Your deeds have been uncovered and there will be consequences. We will turn about every stone.'

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Nothing. Not a word about the Russian elephant in the room. Just the conspiracy of silence which makes elite sport seem, to the outside world, like a network of wealthy bureaucrats and powerful politicians who feed off the fat and scratch each other's bellies. Who was the first person to call Bach when he was appointed to this sinecure? Putin, of course. We know, because journalists were right alongside him when the call came in the foyer of the Buenos Aires Hilton.

Not only was there no mention of Russia on Friday night, but there was nothing on the scourge of drugs whatsoever. The Norwegian paper Dagbladet exposed the sewer at the heart of the games on Friday when it published the list of convicted doping cheats participating.

There are no fewer than 101, the paper established: Americans, Dutch, Brazilians, Portuguese - pretty much every nation. This is the scourge of the sports we love, not some concocted sense of self-absorption which requires the Olympians to ride to the rescue.

Bach's continued perorations were almost laughable in their unintended ironies. "In this Olympic world there is one universal law for everybody. In this Olympic world we are all equal. In this Olympic world we see that the values of our shared humanity are stronger than the forces which want to divide us . . ."

We were treated to what, in the circumstances, was the rank tokenism of the IOC celebrating the Olympic refugee team, a banker for applause. And then more obsequious paternalism of Bach's: "respect yourself, respect each other, respect the Olympic values which make the Olympic Games unique for you and for the entire world". After that, the night descended into a demonstration of how authority has come to be viewed and loathed, as the interim Brazilian president Michel Temer's speech was confined to a few words before he was drowned out by boos.

Sport stands on a precipice, requiring drive and imagination and powers of communication as it tackles the cheats, of whom Russia are the most deeply unpleasant kind. A large, bloated man wearing a well-cut suit and bearing homilies did not come close to the requirement.

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